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Volvo Ocean Race: Nicho on the lessons thus far for Camper    
Mon, 9 Jan 2012

He explains why 'moding' is so important, and how the crews suggest and test potential changes before trying these in the race itself. Clearly the old days of 'try it and see' are long gone.

He writes on

Hi all

Well after a few days rest following the end of leg two the sailing team is back at work and straight into reviewing performance and looking at where we can improve things across the board. The debrief process seems like a long one but it’s an incredibly useful one which generates a lot of positive changes.

The debriefs involve us going through a huge amount of data collated by co-navigator Andy McLean that give us a pretty detailed insight into how the boat has actually performed in certain conditions, modes, trim etc and how it should have performed. From this along with our gut instinct on how the boat has sailed we compare our performance with the other teams in the same conditions.

We then generally come up with a number of potential changes/ questions that we send to the designers and engineers that are normally theoretical in nature such as 'what would happen to the boat if we changed setting xyz'. Once we’ve factored this info in we then make a call on how we alter how we sail the boat. None of these changes are massive, rather dozens of small things that collectively add up to a different looking, different moded boat.

In this race we’re hearing a lot more mention of the ‘moding’ of boats and getting it right than previously. Basically, when we talk about moding what we mean is the multiple medium term changes/adjustment we can make to the boat to alter performance. These changes can be anything from deciding to carry more spares on a leg if you feel have a good handle on the weather and want more weight aboard, to deciding you want to target a particular true wind angle and adjusting your sail programme accordingly, to different mast rake for set conditions, rudder angles, dagger board heights – the list is almost endless.

The closeness of the fleet this time around means that moding has taken on a huge new importance. In previous editions leading boats just didn’t need to go into this level of detail as they were generally quicker across the board. This time however, it’s a different story and if we see the slightest chink in the armour then we are all over our moding to see if we can fix it.

Overall our programme is in good shape. The boat has had a full structural sign-off after coming out of the water and will be dropped back in tomorrow and is looking ready to roll. Our sail programme has been well and truly beefed up with recuts happening on most sails and two new sails coming online. To date I think we’ve managed to use less sail slots than other teams which should play into our hand nicely over the next few legs. The two new sails are a J1 which will replace the existing one which is pretty tired after a lot of hard miles, and a new fractional sail in which we’re going a little bigger to help on wider angles.

After a hard race like we had in Leg 2 I think it’s a real boost to have the boat come through without any issues. Reliability is going to be a big factor in winning this race and having total confidence in our designers, engineers and builders makes a massive difference. I know from previous programmes that it’s a hard thing psychologically to come back and perform at your full potential after a major gear or structural failure. To go out there the next day or the next watch and push the boat at least as hard as you did when it broke, well that’s a difficult thing to get you head around. So for us to have had no significant issues after two pretty hard legs is definitely a positive factor.

We feel that we’ve got a good handle on the limits of this boat now and there’s potential to get more of it. So are we going to start pushing harder? Yes, for sure but in a slow and measured manner that doesn’t break the boat – it’s a very fine line.

So all in all half way through the Abu Dhabi stopover things are generally in good shape and I’m happy with where we are at. The guys are rested, the boat is ready to go and the sail programme refreshed. The facilities here are second to none and I think we’ve all appreciated it. Now our focus turns to the in-port on January 13th and the start of Leg 3 the next day. We’re ready for it.

Talk soon


by Chris Nicholson

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